Cyrano

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By Philip Pearce

IT’S INTERESTING the way that PacRep’s current season takes two central heroes of early 20th century European drama, Peter Pan and Cyrano de Bergerac, and gives them each a new look. Plus the frank theatricality of a handful of actors playing a whole lot of the characters involved in the stories of their lives.

In the June/July production of Peter and the Starcatcher twelve actors played more than 30 roles in a swashbuckling prequel to the August/July musical version of Peter Pan.

Now there’s an exciting new version of Cyrano, which tells the well-loved tale but pares nearly 50 speaking roles down to 27 to be played by a cast of nine.

When you think about it, Peter and Cyrano are cut from the same mold. Both are chock full of swaggering self-confidence, both are supernaturally brilliant swordsmen, both are sworn enemies of the social status quo. “I want,” Cyrano explains at one point, “to reduce the number of bows I have to make in a day.” Peter doesn’t want to grow up and have to make that kind of decision in the first place.

Like many another theater addict of my generation, I’ve always loved Rostand’s three hour, five-act marathon of moonlit romance, spontaneous poetry and dashing swordplay. But Michael Hollinger’s slick new translation and the fresh two-act adaptation of the text he shares with Aaron Posner make for a fast-paced and thoroughly satisfying evening in the Outdoor Forest Theater.

In a recent interview, Hollinger notes that the original script’s world of 17th century Paris isn’t exactly familiar territory to 21st century audiences. “It was important to me that the play speak to us, here and now, and therefore I made myself the litmus test of what would be accessible, immediate, funny, poignant, and so on.”

So there’s little left of Rostand’s blank verse or the sections of social comment on French society of the 1600’s. What comes across vividly is the central ironic dilemma of a man with a face so unsightly he can only use his supreme genius for poetic love talk to push his lady love into the arms of a handsome but tongue-tied rival.

Pacific Rep executive director Stephen Moorer is an active, touching and consistently funny Cyrano. He mines every vein of wit in the new script and catches most of the underlying pathos without ever slipping into the lilting Gielgud/Burton attitude and voice adopted by some Cyranos I’ve seen. His dying attack against social convention and phony officialdom is no reflective elegy, it’s a ruthless sword fight to the death.

This new version makes it easier to explore character motivations and navigate some of the finer points of 17th century French civic and military life by expanding the role of Le Bret. He’s no longer just Cyrano’s trusty military buddy; he’s a wise narrator who steps out of the action and into a spotlight to explain things directly to us ticket holders. It works admirably. Unlike Rostand’s audience but just like Shakespeare’s, we’ve reached a point where we like it when somebody pauses the story and comments on what’s going on. As always, Jeffrey T Heyer is clear and believable in the role.

The remainder of the players are busy and excellent, moving nimbly through two or three roles apiece. Jennifer Le Blanc is a beautiful, passionate Roxane, so swept up in a duet of Cyrano’s poetry and Gascon-cadet Christian de Neuvillette’s good looks that it takes her fourteen years to discover she’s been in love with the soul of one and only the body of the other.

Justin Gordon is an appealing Christian, a fresh military recruit who’s closely in touch with his feelings but clueless in expressing them. I liked his last-minute wide-eyed explosion of terror at having to woo the lovely Roxane, even coached by the eloquent Cyrano.

D Scott McQuiston is a bubbly and comically endearing Ragueneau, a pastry chef and would-be poet, who manages (in the interest of trimming down cast size) to shout protests at his wife for wrapping her pastries in the texts of his verses without her ever actually appearing on stage.

A small and energetic Andrew Mazer is convincingly tipsy as a bibulous cadet named Ligniere.  Lewis Rhames is willowy and comically inept as a plumed Parisian popinjay named De Valvert, one of a string of candidates for the hand of the fair Roxane. More purposeful and pompous is Michael Storm as another suitor, De Guiche, commander of Cyrano and Christian’s Gascon battalion. The versatile and surprising Garland Thompson moves effortlessly through five different roles, most notably in drag as Roxane’s busybody and sweet-toothed duenna and then in Rosary and wimple as the chatty, broom-wielding Sister Marthe.

Kenneth Kelleher’s direction manages, again and again, to make the nine-member cast look and act like a big crowd. My favorite segment of Act 1 is a sequence that doesn’t even happen in the old Rostand version. Cyrano, high and happy at some fond attention from his beloved Roxane, learns that a hundred sword-wielding thugs are planning a midnight ambush at the Porte de Nesle. He vows to bare his sword and carve them up, single handedly, one by one. Rostand’s script simply reports his success after the fact. Kelleher, Moorer and fight director Justin Gordon show it happening in a shadowy ballet of flashing swordplay which proves that perfectly timed farce can be both hilarious and beautiful.

I loved the show, but I had minor problems with the set design. The big outdoor theater stage allows for a lot of depth and width. But is the backstage area so limited that ingredients of Patrick McEvoy’s settings need to be stored in plain view instead of waiting in the wings to be wheeled on when required? The big quarter moon awaited its appearance in the balcony/garden scene from a position way upstage. And an unchanging background of blue-green wooden fretwork units gave a sense of clutter.

That said, it’s a must see, but take plenty of coats and blankets. It continues through October 15th.

 

 

Weekly Magazine

NEW THIS WEEK

MONTEREY AT 250

JUNE 3 marks the 250th anniversary of the establishment of Monterey as the first US capital of California. A 15-foot abalone sculpture to commemorate the city’s historic milestone will be installed soon at San Carlos Beach park. It was designed and created by Cara Byrd, John Mason and Lance Boen.

RECIPE FOR DISASTER

SMUIN CONTEMPORARY BALLET dancer Terez Dean Orr combines her love of dance with cooking in her latest short film, Recipe for Disaster. Filmed entirely with cellphones and video chat, Terez and her husband John cavort in their kitchen, shaking up cocktails and stirring up a saucy gnocchi recipe (included below) while also making stunning use of the small space with their quirky choreography. But…what happens when they run out of salt?

FOR TEREZ’ gnocchi and sauces recipes, click HERE

MONTEREY COUNTY ARTS COUNCIL AWARDS

THE ARTS COUNCIL FOR MONTEREY COUNTY has awarded five $2,500 scholarships to high school seniors to support their higher educational goals. These scholarships are creating an investment in a student right at the beginning of his or her artistic and academic career in order to contribute to the county’s creative vitality and rich artistic heritage upon graduation. Awardees are: Daisy Swanson, Joshua Cho, Isabella Jolie Apodaca, Vanessa Stacy Valenzuela Berumen and Mariah Trinity. They represent York School, Pacific Grove High, King City High, Seaside High and Marina High. To watch a video of the recipients after the awards were announced, click HERE

TANNERY WORLD DANCE ROUNDTABLE THIS FRIDAY

ON JUNE 5 at 5pm, Tannery World Dance & Cultural Center (TWDCC) presents Creating Dynamic Resilience In The Professional Dancer: A Virtual Roundtable. The Roundtable will feature TWDCC’s Founder & Executive Director Cat Willis as moderator, and three former principal dancers with world-renowned Garth Fagan Dance: TWDCC Artistic Director and Virtual Theater Soloist Micha Scott, Bessie-Award winner Sharon Skepple-Mayfield and Evidence Dance’s Annique Roberts. The premiere of Virtual Theater at the beginning of May was a huge success for TWDCC, reaching over 2,000 viewers between its initial live showing and its continued digital presence. TWDCC’s second installment of Virtual Theater will tackle the vital question of how we, as dancers, can diversify our resiliency tactics. We will explore what it means to develop “dynamic resilience” as a professional dancer. Questions will be submitted from selected students pursuing professional careers in dance. The one hour roundtable discussion will stream live on the TWDCC Facebook page. Click HERE

SMUIN BALLET WEDNESDAY

SMUIN CONTEMPORARY BALLET presents a special presentation of two short works choreographed by company dancers for the next installment of its popular Hump Day Ballets series. Smuin artist Brennan Wall’s Nocturne will make its first-ever appearance since its premiere during Smuin’s sold-out Choreography Showcase earlier this year. Smuin will also present former Smuin artist Rex Wheeler’s Sinfonietta (photo by Keith Sutter), developed in Smuin’s Choreography Showcase and then premiered on its mainstage in 2018. Smuin’s Hump Day Ballets aim to brighten mid-week spirits with free video streaming of works from the company’s archives. Nocturne and Sinfonietta will be offered beginning Wednesday, June 3, accompanied by a video introduction with both Wheeler and Wall. The recorded performances will be available for 48 hours only, with streaming instructions announced through Smuin’s email list (sign up at smuinballet.org), or via Smuin’s Facebook (facebook.com/SmuinBallet) and Instagram (instagram.com/smuinballet).

CREATING ART UNDER LOCKDOWN

WE JUST HEARD FROM Alex Berko, the composer commissioned by the Monterey Symphony to write Among Waves, which was premiered to open the Symphony’s 2018-19 season, with Max Bragado-Darman conducting. Berko had spent time at the Glen Deven Ranch in Big Sur soaking up inspiration. For Alex’s update, click HERE

A GIFT FROM HOMEBOUND JOYCE DiDONATO

REYNALDO HAHN’S À Chloris. She sang Romeo in the SF Opera archive stream a couple of weeks ago of Bellini’s The Capulets and the Montagues.

 

THOUGHTS DURING S.I.P.

A PENDULUM PRESENCE AND THE ARTS

“EVERY WEEK I eagerly anticipate opening Performing Arts Monterey Bay Weekly Magazine. It continually broadens my awareness. I look forward to PAMB’s take on the Arts and this converting world. In a daily patchwork arena of stay-at-home programming, of binges, unlikely explorations and predictable reruns. This past month, increasingly grew with its missing the company of others, memories of our favorite kinds of social gatherings at concerts, favorite coffee shops, old bookstores and happy walking places. I have spent most of my life juggling a number of careers in the arts. Like many others, I read my tea leaves recently with mixed optimism. I have had past visitations of high times and low times. Those of us who have been periodically unemployed have no doubt that the pendulum is always swinging. At times like this, the only question is, how long could the duration of this particular swing last?”  ~Carey Crockett, Unicorn Theatre Monterey

THERAPIST TO AILING ARTS ORGANIZATION

MICHAEL M KAISER, late of Kennedy Center management, has been guiding arts organizations under COVID-19 panic. Click HERE

IN MEMORIAM

CELLIST LYNN HARRELL, died April 27. (Composer Krzysztof Penderecki, died March 29.) Remembered by eight cellists of the National Symphony Orchestra

 

THE HYPERTRAGIC NOTCH

SAMUIL FEINBERG PIANO SONATAS

MARC-ANDRÉ HAMELIN has released the first six of Feinberg’s 12 piano sonatas on Hyperion label. Feinberg (1890-1962) was born in Odessa, became an exceptional pianist and prolific composer of solo piano music, three piano concertos, two violin sonatas and a large body of songs for voice and piano. As this new disc reveals, he carried forward the influence of Sergei Rachmaninoff, 17 years his senior, and Nicolai Medtner, who was born in 1880. Like Medtner, Feinberg lacked Rachmaninoff’s entertainer’s ambition and instead left music that is more richly concentrated and subtly nuanced. Of these six sonatas, composed between 1915 and 1934, five are single-movements of, on average, ten minutes performance time apiece. However the Third Sonata, of 1916-17, consists of three movements, titled Prélude, Marche funèbre and Sonate: Allegro appassionato. Indeed, the three movements sound very much like stand-alone pieces. The Second Sonata, in A Minor, of 1916, seems to have attracted the most interest among contemporary pianists. All of these works are tonal and thematic but lavish with harmonic digressions that blur the underlying chord progressions. There is so much going on within the texture of each that it takes a virtuoso of extraordinary brilliance to reveal their riches. Hamelin is certainly the man for the job, an artist who has tackled music that most pianists find technically too difficult to conquer, much less artistically interpret. That makes for a listener’s adventure. Three times through and I know I haven’t discovered all the goods they contain. SM

 

HUGE EXPLOSION OF ONLINE ARTS

SILVER LINING OF COVID-19 as arts consumers turn to the internet. Music critic Barbara Jepson calls attention to an unanticipated development. Click HERE 

COVID-19 STRANDS BOLIVIAN ORCHESTRA

FOLK-INSTRUMENT ENSEMBLE stuck in a German castle for more than two months. Click HERE

TAKING UP THE MARIMBA

WITH ALONDRA DE LA PARRA and colleagues

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: @PerfArtsMtyBay

Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor

 

 

Composer Alex Berko

Alex Berko, right, with composer John Wineglass and conductor Max Bragado-Darman at Glen Deven Ranch in Big Sur

WHAT A DIFFERENCE 5 months can make. What a difference one week or even one moment can make. It certainly feels like a lifetime since I last sent an update—we lived in a completely different world back in January…just 5 months ago. As Tom Hanks put it in his graduation speech to Wright State University:

“Part of [our] lives will forever be identified as ‘before,’ in the same way other generations tell time like ‘that was before the war, or ‘that was before the internet,’ or ‘that was before Beyoncé.’ The word ‘before’ is going to carry great weight with [us].”

In the spirit of drawing lines between the before, the now, and the what will be, I’ll be writing this letter in a bit of a different way than in the past:
THE BEFORE
Back in February and March, I was in the thick of finishing up my first year of course work at Rice. Me and my colleague, the wonderful flutist Tyler Martin, were prepping to premiere a new piece of mine for his Master’s recital. I was working on two new commissions for Chicago-based choirs, Stare at the Sun and Constellation Men’s Ensemble. I was appointed as a Composer in Residence with Luzerne Music Center and I was teaching my wonderful Rice Preparatory department students on Saturdays. Laura and I went to our first rodeo (that is a holiday here in Texas). For very good reasons, this has all been cancelled/postponed.
THE NOW
My world has slowed down quite a bit and I have found a lot of comfort in that. My first year of grad school ended uneventfully in April and since then, I have settled in to my new normal. My time is spent cooking a lot, reading, running, teaching online, and continuing to write, though it has been tough to find the right notes…
A wonderful article by Armenian-American composer Mary Kouyoumdjian was posted on icareifyoulisten.com. It talked about the pressures that many artists are feeling now to create more than ever before and eloquently put the importance of prioritizing your health and well-being over work:

“My humble hope is that after all this, there will be a wild explosion of art to celebrate. The Black Plague gave us the vitality of the Renaissance. The Great Depression gave us bursts of experimentation in cinema and music. Crisis after crisis, the flowers continue to bloom, artists create new work, we find the stamina to go forward, and life carries on. But let’s process this as best as we are able. Let’s be kind to our hearts. Let’s choose to take care of ourselves now, however that individually manifests itself to each of us, so that we may best position ourselves for those projects we care so much about. With this choice, I am beginning to daydream again.” 

Now, I don’t believe that this is the time to stop creating altogether. I’m still writing, but I’m finding myself doing so in a different way. Words are coming quicker than music, but in so much of my music, words are equally, if not more important. I’m writing a lot of words and when the music is ready, I’ll have a few things to say.

THE WHAT WILL BE

I miss live performance as I’m sure you do, too. Countless premieres and performances of music and theater have been cancelled and I’m mourning for all of my gigging musician friends who have lost all of their work for the foreseeable future. What I’m holding on to is the moment when we all get to sit in a hall or stand on stage again and have our ears and hearts filled with the amazing sounds of others. To me and to so many others, music isn’t worth much if we can’t share it (not behind a screen…in person) and I know that I’m certainly missing sharing.

Come the fall, there will still be plenty of uncertainty. It may be unlikely that this year, choirs will sing again and orchestras will play again. But, at some point they will, and when that day comes, I just know that we’ll all need to hear those living, breathing sounds more than ever before. We’ll celebrate together.

I sincerely hope that you and your family are safe and healthy and finding some light in all of this darkness.

Much love,
Alex